I’ve been fascinated by an ongoing debate that is reflected even among my own friends between Bernie Sanders on the one hand and Mike Bloomberg on the other. Bernie and Bloomberg, both Jewish guys in their seventies, represent the polar opposite thinking among Democrats, and they have one other thing in common:
|Neither one is actually a Democrat.|
About Bernie Sanders
I’ve been a fan of Bernie Sanders since he first made an appearance on the national scene in 1981, as the first socialist mayor of a major American city.1 I was in law school at the time, and very interested in social justice issues.
Bernie, to his credit, has been preaching the same message for the almost 40 years that he has been in public life. Although a “socialist” mayor2, Bernie proved to be both popular and effective, which translated to him being elected to Congress in 1991 and ultimately to the Senate in 2007.3
I voted for Bernie in the 2016 presidential primary in Massachusetts for two reasons: first, as I’ve said repeatedly, I couldn’t resist the temptation to vote for a septuagenarian Socialist Jew as a serious candidate for President of the United States: and second, I wanted to send Hillary Clinton a message about being an entirely pro-corporate candidate.4
This time around my concern about Bernie is simple: I have serious trouble believing that a majority of Americans will vote for a socialist Jew who will be 79 on Tuesday, November 3, 2020, the day of the presidential election. (There are plenty of people, including many of my friends, who believe that Bernie would have won against Trump in 2016. I’m not so sure.) What has not happened yet is that the Republican propaganda machine has trained their full arsenal of lies against Bernie. So far they have given him a free pass, I believe, because they believe that they will be able to annihilate him politically once they do train their full arsenal upon him.
Bernie has been an independent voting with the Democrats for his entire career in Congress. He has only been a Democrat for the purposes of his two presidential campaigns: 2016 and 2020.
About Mike Bloomberg
Mike Bloomberg and Donald Trump have two important things in common: (1) they have both been Democrat, Republican and Independent, and (2) they are both billionaire businessmen. Bloomberg, of course, is actually a self-made businessman, with an estimated net worth of $58 billion, making him the 14th richest person in the world. Trump claims to be a multi-billionaire — which is doubtful — and has steadfastly refused to disclose his tax returns, which would make knowing his actual wealth far easier.5
Bloomberg was elected mayor of New York City three times, which is equivalent to being the Governor of a mid-size state. He has been particularly out front on certain issues, including gun control, banning trans fat in restaurants, and attempting to ban the sale of large soft drinks, among other things. He has been criticized as being a “nanny state” politician. Bloomberg is pro-choice and fiscally conservative; he was re-elected mayor of NYC a 3rd time in 2009, but to do so he had to rescind the existing term-limit provisions.
About the Debate
My friends who are pro-Bernie supporters basically make the argument that Bernie can win in 2020 because he will bring so many young hard-core supporters to the polls that they will overwhelm Trump. They also believe that Bernie was ripped off by the Democratic establishment in 2016 — a belief that I largely share — and that if Bernie gets ripped off again, the Democrats will lose an entire generation of potentially enthusiastic supporters to cynicism.6 Media critics have also noted the barrage of articles critical of Bernie or dismissive of his success in the mainstream media.
The argument for Bloomberg is perhaps best articulated by Thomas Friedman. In a recent article for the New York Times, Friedman writes:
But there is one candidate on the Democratic side who not only has a track record of supporting all those issues but also has the resources to build a machine big enough to take on the Trump machine.
This candidate also has the toughness to take on Trump, because while Trump was pretending to be a C.E.O. on the show “The Apprentice,” this candidate was actually building one of the most admired global companies as a real C.E.O.
This candidate is not cuddly, he is not always politically correct and he will not always tell you what you want to hear — or try to outbid you on how many free services he’ll give away.
He’s made mistakes, especially around stop-and-frisk policing in New York City, which disproportionately targeted black and brown men and for which he recently apologized.
And this candidate is now rising steadily in the polls. This candidate is Michael Bloomberg. This candidate has Trump very worried.Thomas Friedman in the New York Times
The notion that we have to win the centrists has been popular since Bill Clinton did it back in 1992. I’m not so sure that equation works anymore.
Also weighing in on behalf of Bloomberg is Susan Estrich, the campaign manager for the Michael Dukakis presidential campaign back in 1988. In a none too subtle piece entitled How to Lose Fifty States, Estrich writes:
I understand why Democratic ideologues are voting for Bernie Sanders. I used to be one myself. But losing one election after another, two to Reagan, one to George H.W. Bush, two to George W. Bush and, of course, one to Donald Trump, is painfully instructive. This is not horseshoes. This is not a battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. It is a battle to beat a dangerous president.And the truth is that the only Democrat with a chance of doing that is Mike Bloomberg.
Bernie Sanders would lose in a landslide. So would Elizabeth Warren — if a senator from Massachusetts runs fourth in neighboring New Hampshire, he or she will do even worse in a general election. Her candidacy is all but over.
Pete Buttigieg is the brightest star on the Democratic side. If he were 10 years older and didn’t look like Beaver Cleaver, I’d be ringing doorbells. Of course there are folks who would not vote for a gay man with a wonderful husband and a brilliant military record. That’s not my problem. I’ll vote for him in the future. I believe he will be president someday. But not in 2020.
And the only Democrat who can beat Trump is Mike Bloomberg. Bloomberg-Buttigieg — that’s my ticket.Susan Estrich writing in Creater.com
On the other side, the argument for Bernie is well-articulated by my friend Rachel — who is about 30 years younger that I am — and with whom I had the following exchange (see below) on Facebook, after I had suggested that I might be able to get on the Pete Buttigieg bandwagon. Although it’s a little long, I’m going to reprint all of it here because I think Rachel makes the case for Bernie supporters for her generation very well:
Rachel Pete’s policies are too empty / status quo to ignite the voters he’d need to win the general. The stunt he pulled in IA, shutting down the Des Moines Register poll where he was in 3rd or 4th place, then declaring victory before the results were in, all to control the narrative and manufacture consent, was an ugly look. Progressives have had enough of those kinds of shenanigans after 2016. It’s not that people on the left will vote for Trump over Pete, they’ll just stay home. Young progressives won’t wait in line at the polls to vote for another corporatist with another slick argument against guaranteeing poor people healthcare.
When the tea party came around republicans moved further right to preserve unity, and it worked- they kept winning. Democrats need to do the same and move to the left before progressives become so disgusted that they break from the party entirely. Moving to the right to convert “moderate” Trump voters while standing for nothing besides defeating Trump is not the answer.
Jurgfella I’ve been a Bernie supporter since he became the first socialist mayor of a “major” American city back in 1981 (if Burlington can be considered to be “major”). I’ve voted for him every time I’ve had a chance. But here is my question Rachel: do you really believe a majority of Americans will vote for a 79 year old socialist Jew for President of the United States, even if he is opposing Donald Trump? If you do, you have a lot more faith in the American electorate than I have.
Rachel Yes. Study after study about messaging in key states like FL, WI, MI, PA, etc.-even those conducted privately by establishment insiders- is showing that the messenger is more important than the message to most voters. The key to exciting voters enough to get the kind of turnout we’ll need is perceived authenticity and trustworthiness. The reason Trump fared so well is that for all his faults, no one could accuse him of being a slick politician, and the same can be said of Bernie Sanders.
One thing Trump supporters and progressives (and many independents) have in common is a disdain for a political establishment which has been failing them for years, talking out of both sides of their mouths. Obama was a centrist, but he ran on a platform of change. He turned out to be just another corporate, war-happy neoliberal, and progressives felt burned. They don’t want to be fooled again. That is why HRC lost, because no one believed she sincerely wanted to fight for anything but the status quo.
Bernie has had the same message, the same platform, for 40 years. He lives his values. He doesn’t flip flop according to public sentiment, and he is unquestionably running for the greater good. He only ran in 2016 after Warren declined to run. He doesn’t seek power, he seeks a better America. And one of the only similarities he shares with Trump is that they both have die-hard supporters who are excited to turn out and vote for them. And like Trump in 2016, many Bernie supporters view it as a bonus that a Sanders presidency would be a brick through the window of an elitist establishment that has taken their base for granted far too long.
Jurgfella Well, I hope you’re right Rachel, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
Rachel I just hope the Dems don’t screw this up. If they continue to have the kind of optics we saw in Iowa, if we end up with a split convention and the superdelegates even *look* like they are robbing Sanders of the nomination, the progressive wing will be too angry and deflated to get behind the nominee- especially if it ends up being a corporatist who doesn’t unequivocally support M4A. Trump won’t even have to lie to run circles around an establishment fillip-flopper. And the Dems won’t have a leg to stand on to defend themselves.
What’s more, the DNC will never recover credibility and there will be an unprecedented number of young voters who no longer believe in the system, who won’t bother in 2024 either.
So there you have it, my friends. The debate between those who believe that anything less than the populist Sanders will not do this time, and those who believe we have to go with an überwealthy super-Centrist like Bloomberg, who has the resources to compete with Trump and won’t offend anyone in the establishment (but may leave a generation of populists sitting home, unwilling to come to the polls).
- That is, if Burlington, the largest city in Vermont — and the smallest “large city” in any state of the Union — can qualify as a “major” American city.
- In practice, being a “socialist” did not keep Bernie from being a practical and reasonably effective mayor. He managed to balance the city budget, drew a minor league baseball team to Burlington, sued the local television cable franchise and won reduced rates for customers, led extensive downtown revitalization projects, and improved Burlington’s Lake Champlain waterfront.
- I should also note that if elected Bernie is unlikely to get much of his progressive agenda enacted. Given how much opposition there was to a modest proposal like Obamacare, Medicare for All — which I support — is likely to run into insurmountable headwinds. If we cannot switch the Senate back into Democratic hands, then you can forget about anything getting done under a Bernie presidency.
- I subsequently supported Hillary enthusiastically over Donald Trump, given that Hillary was the most qualified non-incumbent ever to run for President in the history of presidential campaigns. I also believed, rightly or wrongly, that she had heard my (and others) protest vote.
- Donald Trump is also known to be a cheat and a crook, and has, of course, declared bankruptcy six times, none of which is true for Bloomberg.
- Controversially, almost all the “super-delegates” voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 (572 for Hillary, 42 for Bernie). If you take super-delegates out of the equation, it would have been much closer, but Hillary would still have been the nominee.
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